Odell -- Gage County
Although people did pass through the corner of Gage County on their way west in the 1840s, it was the land-seekers of the 1870s who came to the Big Indian Creek to build homes, farms, and villages. Before that the land on which Odell was built belonged to the Otoe Indians.
The Otoe reservation, 10 miles wide and 25 miles long, sat astraddle the Kansas-Nebraska state line, and comprised an eight-mile strip from the east side of Gage County into what is now Jefferson County. When Algernon Paddock was a U.S. Senator, he introduced a bill which allowed for the sale of part of the reservation. After the Otoes were moved to Red Rock, Oklahoma, in the fall of 1882, the rest of the reservation was put up for sale.
The railroad had, during the late 1870s, purchased the right of way through the reservation for $1,900. Another large purchase of the Otoe land was made by William LaGorgue, who settled in southern Gage County in about 1873. He founded the town of Charleston on the south side of the creek, a mile from what is now Odell. This village had a number of businesses and a school which served the 20 families who lived there. However, when the railroad was built in 1881, its rails were laid on the north side of Indian Creek instead of through Charleston. It didn't take long for the towns-people to move across the creek to land owned by the Lincoln Land Company.
Nellie Tincher, early historian, tells this story of James D. Myers, who was the town's first banker. When the first child was born, Myers offered to "deed him a lot" if he was allowed to name the baby. The offer accepted, the name given was "Frank LaGrande Odell Triska." (Odell was the surname of a dear friend from Chicago who just happened to be a member of the firm owning the land.) "It was then decided to call the town 'Odell,' too."
The land sale and the railroad brought German, Czech, and Irish families to the Odell area, both to farm and to establish businesses to serve those who were farming. Even today, in this period of declining rural population, the descendants of those first residents still own much of the land. The town itself recorded a 1990 population of 322, down from its highest number of about 500, registered in the 1890s and again in the 1950s.
Odell built a school in the year of its founding, 1881, and still has both an elementary school (housed in the 1929 high school building), and a junior - senior high school, built in 1960. Consolidation was accomplished in the late 1950s with rural school districts and Odell. Every five years the Odell Alumni Association undertakes an alumni banquet, some with over 800 in attendance. It has grown so large that the high school gymnasium can barely hold the crowd.
Three churches founded in Odell's early years, the Methodist, Christian, and Catholic, still hold regular worship services and sponsor many community activities. In addition, the Lutheran Church, established in the late 1920s, also contributes to Odell's religious life. Other long-standing Odell institutions are the Odd Fellows Lodge and the Z.C.B.J. Lodge. The Rice Hospital, now renovated into an apartment building, was built in 1929 and operated until 1960 when Dr. C. E. Rice and his wife and nurse, Irene, retired.
Over the years, one of Odell's favorite pastimes was baseball. Proud of its semi-pro team, fans from a wide area crowded the Odell Ball Park at the site of the present Odell Coop elevator to watch their "stars" play other up-and-coming stars such as Richie Ashburn (Philadelphia Phillies All-Star), Rex Barney (Brooklyn Dodgers), and Doyle Lade (Chicago Cubs). For a few exciting hours on game night, crowds tripled and quadrupled Odell's population.
Odell was home to two Nebraska politicians. Businessman John S. Callan was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 1932 and served until his death in 1950. His son, Clair Callan, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964 and in 1966 became the Deputy Administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration.
In 1981 Odell celebrated its centennial with the publication of a history book, a parade, fireworks, alumni banquet, and baseball team reunion.
By Catherine Renshaw, Box B, Odell, NE 68415
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The history of Odell by an early resident, Nellie Tincher; and More Than Common Land, 1981, hard-cover volume, being updated annually.